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Renegotiating Greece

All leaders have to present any negotiation outcomes in terms of benefits for their constituents rather than the ways in which justice or solidarity are served.

Greek politics has been a matter of international debate for the past few weeks, especially after the strong electoral performance of a radical left-wing political party that stands for disputing the terms of the Greek financial aid package, even for essentially nullifying the package in its entirety. Their leader has repeatedly asked for the renegotiation of the terms of the Greek financial aid.

This position may seem difficult to comprehend a few months after the package was sealed by the agreement between the troika - the EC, the ECB and the IMF - and the Greek government. Although the financial package is keeping the Greek economy  - if barely - alive, the austerity measures that accompanied the bailout plan are especially harsh in the short term.

However, this is only one part of the reason why Greeks seem to reject Europe’s help. In fact, Greeks would be willing to make sacrifices as long as they felt that their efforts would be rewarded in the end. Nevertheless, the economic situation continues to worsen and the dimming prospects offer no light at the end of the tunnel. More importantly, though, Greeks largely believe that the financial help has been mustered together only to serve the interests of the countries that lend the money.

Of course lenders would want to ensure that Greece is doing whatever it can to repay its debt. However, there is a fundamental misconception about negotiations per se that contributes to the unfavourable view that Greeks hold toward the financial help they are receiving: the view that only self-interest guides the negotiations and that outcomes are inevitably tilted in favour of the most powerful party.

Greeks mistrust the fact that any negotiation will serve their interests as much as Germans or other Europeans are incredulous that any help for Greece might serve their own interests. In fact all those involved feel that the package that has been negotiated for Greece serves the interests of other - opposing - parties.

Isn’t it a sad day when principles, such as justice or solidarity, do not even enter people’s minds as possible motives, because it is assumed that any negotiation simply does not take account of these criteria. In fact, negotiation is seen as a power struggle of opposing interests and any insinuation to the contrary is greeted with disbelief.

The pursuit of interests has long been established as the only rational approach to negotiations. Any behaviour that is guided by other concerns is often treated as wrong or irrational. Therefore it is widely believed that, at the highest level of negotiations among nations, eventual outcomes can only be guided by vested interests and the package for Greece will only ever correspond to serving those interests. Even more regrettably, all leaders have to present any negotiation outcomes in terms of benefits for their constituents rather than the ways in which justice or solidarity are served.

This is indeed unfair for politicians and citizens who truly feel solidarity with other Europeans and want to build a European Union with common goals and values. And it is unfair for the governments who actually negotiated the package and, while understandably struggling with opposing interests, indeed tried to serve the basic values of the European Union and a vision of integration.

Now, many Greeks are hoping that a radical left-wing political leader will manage to push Greek interests up the European agenda and Europeans are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact that Greece’s volatile situation will have on their own interests. A renegotiation is in the works that sets aside any dream about Europe’s integrative potential and focuses only on countries’ isolated, often short-term, and definitely narrow-minded interests.

This vicious game is looking more and more like a poker game with bluffs and threats. Those who are arguing that the EU will eventually break down, see nothing more than a group of nations that really do not want to form a political and economic union unless their narrow interests are served; and it is becoming increasingly clear that this will not be possible.

Some form of renegotiation is surely imminent. It concerns the financial debt of Greece but it also involves Europe’s identity and vision. If negotiations incorporate successfully the values and goals of the European Union, Greece might have a future within Europe and Europe may indeed stay united. Otherwise, individual countries and their citizens may have to follow a lonelier path toward the satisfaction of their interests. 

About the author

Alexios Arvanitis is a lecturer at the Business College of Athens.


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